Category Archives: American culture

Postseason Postmortem

Thank God, it’s finally over. By the end of this beatdown of a season the Giants were reduced to one forlorn goal. Don’t lose a hundred games. They didn’t, and that’s the best you can say about 2017.

The record will show 98 losses against 64 wins. Dead last in the National League, and tied with Detroit in the American League, a team we faced, and swept, in the World Series five years ago.

How bad is 64-98? Turn it around and see. In our three championship years of 2010, 2012 and 2014, we never won 98 games. Our high-water mark was 94 wins, in 2012. We were worse this year than we were good in our World Series years. Those years we made history; this year, we were historically bad. read more

Outrage is the New Black

(Trigger warning: If you’re a hypersensitive twerp you may feel unsafe in this column.)

It is time to party, my fellow Americans. Once again we come together to celebrate our national birthday and participate in our favorite ritual, internet shaming and outrage.

Nothing goes viral faster than some public person doing something it is possible to take offense at, because if it’s possible, everyone will.

While the medium of outrage is up-to-the-nanosecond Twitter feeds, our reaction is so old fashioned it’s quaint. read more

Curing my cold and capitalism

I recently came home from Palm Springs with a vicious cold. While I don’t hold the desert accountable for my current distress, I do blame capitalism.

You can’t watch TV without seeing endless ads for pharmaceuticals, usually for some dire condition. “Ask your doctor if Utrexa ™ (auxilimab) is right for you. Studies show you may live 53 days longer if you have small cell lung cancer that hasn’t responded to conventional chemotherapy. Side effects include swelling of the gums, incontinence, flatus, vomiting, coma and death.” read more

The Toxic Myth of Cultural Authority

I’ve been curious about the current explosion of sexual harassment scandals. Why now? Why all the high profile cases?

Some explanations occurred to me. One is that women are more vulnerable to sexual harassment now because they’re, rightly, more ambitious. In the old days locking down a good marriage prospect was enough for most women, not because that was all they were capable of, but because that was all the culture allowed.

Today, women are climbing into places previously forbidden to them. Those places are usually controlled by rich and powerful men. Many of those guys (they don’t deserve the honorific “gentlemen”) are trolls—in both senses of the word—and try to take liberties with young, ambitious women. read more

Requiem for Who’s Who in Baseball

For 101 years, a little red book called Who’s Who in Baseball, stuffed with players and stats between soft, glossy covers, arrived every spring. In 2017, it died. Disrupted, like so much else these days, by an efficient and soulless technology.

Who’s Who in Baseball was just a magazine. There will be no grieving relatives, crying hot tears as it’s lowered into the ground.

But for 101 years, before 101 opening days, Who’s Who in Baseball was there, on your coffee table, when you needed it. But not this year and never again. read more

In Defense of Beauty

I come before you in defense of beauty. At first glance, that might strike you as necessary as defending money at Davos, but take a deeper look.

When the history of our age is written, whether by human historian or computer algorithm, on silicon wafers or copper plates, in shining cities or global ashes, this will be known as the Era of Ugly.

Pick a human institution, any institution, then put it back in the deck, don’t show it to me. You chose politics, right? Ugly. Oh, it was entertainment? Ugly. Internet snark? Ugly. Reality TV, Performance Art, Advertising, the degraded Environment, Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly. read more

A Little Less Conversation

It doesn’t matter what the crisis is. Be it a cop shooting yet another unarmed black guy, the latest case of sexual harassment on Fox, or gender wars about bathroom usage in the Carolinas, the response is always the same.

The talking heads pontificate, and right before they break for commercial, everyone concludes that “America really needs to have a conversation.”

But with two hundred channels, half a billion Tweets and countless Facebook posts constantly yammering on those subjects, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re having that conversation already. read more

Global Trembling Part 2: The Cure?

Last month we talked about how information overload is making us crazy with fear and paranoia, distorting our perceptions of reality.

But I also argued that Global Trembling isn’t merely hallucinations from overstressed minds, it has real causes.

To quote: “Information overload makes us feel out of control.”

The fact is, we aren’t in control. The forces that drive events today are infinitely stronger than the outdated institutions we created in earlier times to manage the world.

Not long ago the victors of World War II established the United Nations to enforce global peace and justice. read more

Global Trembling: The Toxic Cloud

You can feel the tension everywhere. In America, where we’re having a fearful, farcical election. In Europe, from the Brexit shores of Dover to the refugee-laden borders of Turkey. Even at the Olympics, during what is supposed to be a celebration, the opening speech told us that the world was coming together in Rio at a time of dire, global crisis.

Really? The summer of 2016 is uniquely frightening and insecure, compared to other Olympiad years when things were so tranquil the speeches never said a discouraging word? read more

The Popular Song: America’s Greatest Cultural Achievement

As beloved as it is, I don’t believe the popular song enjoys the cultural status it deserves. Perhaps that’s because the popular song is not an elite institution. But neither is the democracy that produced it.

The song instinct is as old as humanity. But, just as it took technology and a particular civilization to go from the mud hut to the Great Pyramids, it took technology and a particular civilization to go from war whoops to Stardust.

All the necessary preconditions for the emergence of the popular song came together in America. Many cultures from around the world gathered here, some voluntarily, some enslaved. They all brought their folk music traditions. Those traditions evolved in the new continent. read more